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Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, an internationally known lecturer and author, and head of the Sufi Order International, died on June 17, 2004, at his home in Suresnes, just outside Paris, France, two days before his 88th birthday. He was recently awarded the Hollister Prize for creating interfaith understanding. The award will be presented on July 10th in Barcelona, at the Parliament of World Religions.
Pir Vilayat, born in London in 1916, was the spiritual successor of his father, the pioneer Sufi teacher in the West, Hazrat Inayat Khan, who had been a celebrated musician in India. Pir Vilayat became a musician himself, playing cello, and studying composition with Nadia Boulanger. He took a degree in psychology from the Sorbonne. During the Second World War he and his older sister Noor served the British war effort. Noor, known as Madeleine, was a heroine of the Resistance, executed at Dachau. Pir Vilayat served on a minesweeper which was torpedoed in the D-Day invasion in Normandy.
In the 1950s Pir Vilayat began teaching through the Sufi Order, and particularly in America he drew a large number of people. More than one hundred local centers for the study of Sufism exist in North America, as well as many in Germany and in many other countries around the world. In 1975 he founded, in upstate New York, a spiritual community, the Abode of the Message, and also Omega Institute, a flourishing learning center embracing many teaching approaches.
In 1974 he published Toward the One, a highly successful introduction to spiritual traditions and practices. He followed that up with A Message in Our Time, 1978, a study of the life and teachings of his father. After that he published a series of books on various aspects of meditation and realization: The Call of the Dervish (1981), Introducing Spirituality into Counseling and Psychotherapy (1982), That which Transpires behind that Which Appears (1994), Awakening (1999), and finally, in 2003, In Search of the Hidden Treasure, a wide-ranging exploration of Sufi teachings in the form of an imagined congress of Sufis through the ages.
Pir Vilayat traveled very widely, and spent much time in India, learning meditation techniques from teachers of different traditions. He taught his students techniques of meditation drawn from Yoga, Buddhism, Jewish and Christian traditions, as well as established Sufi methods.
Since 1965, Pir Vilayat assembled every spring a Congress of Religions in or near Paris, where representatives of various traditions met together to discuss and understand each others' viewpoints. He also took a keen interest in new developments in science, and often spoke at symposia dedicated to dialogue between scientists and spiritual teachers. He regularly incorporated the latest scientific thought into the discourses he delivered with great flair at seminars and meditation camps. Every summer, he conducted a camps in the Swiss Alps and in the United States, attended by thousands of people.
He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Mary Walls, his younger brother Hidayat and sister Claire Harper; by a daughter, Maria, and two sons, Zia of New York, who has been designated his spiritual successor, and Mirza of California, and three grandchildren. His body will be taken for burial to Delhi, India, in the tomb complex where his father is buried.
Additional information can be found at PirVilayat.org, Universel.net, and SufiOrder.org.
Today Pir Vilayat's casket was carried into the Universel. It is wooden, medium brown with a simple but elegant design in the rim around the bottom. It's raised above the ground with a cream colored cloth draping the area below it, a cloth the color and the texture of the robes he wore, and a woolen cloth rests over it, with a simple heart and wings on top. One red rose rests upon it tonight. The crystals of the Universel are at the head of the casket, and large pillar candles curve around the sides of it. The space is a sacred one within the Universel tonight, a true sanctuary of love and light.
From Devi on June 19th It's Pir Vilayat's birthday today, and we've ended the second day of the vigil here in Suresnes. People are downstairs in the Universel sitting in silence, and also inside the lower area of Fazl Manzl sitting quietly with one another. We feel your presence.
Today the large candles (3-4 feet tall) that surround Pir Vilayat's casket in a curve were lit in the morning, and rose petals of all colors were scattered around the space within the 3/4 circle of the candles. People have been here constantly, sitting in the Universel, meditating, praying, and offering love and support to each other. The atmosphere is one of peace, sacredness and love. From time to time Pir's favorite music is in the background.
There are preparations going on for the Universal Worship tomorrow. We been remembering all Pir's favorite songs. The sun is setting in sacred space today.
May Allah comfort the soul of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, and may He comfort his son during this time, Pir Zia Inayat Khan (below).